Monday, 20 October 2014

Coat of many compliments: Veste Chloé

Spot the deliberate mistake - go on, let's just get it out of the way:

Yes, not only am I so rubbish at hand sewing that the lowest press stud unattached itself within about four wears, I also completely forgot to fix it before taking pictures. AAARRGHH IT'S ALL I CAN SEE!! That'll teach me for being sloppy.  But ok, fastened like this it's invisible and you would never have known:

Anyway! This is the Veste Chloé, the first piece of outerwear I've ever made, and the first pattern I've tried from Belgian sewing mag La Maison Victor, which launched about this time last year. In my opinion it's perfectly pitched at today's home sewists - good looking and accessible - and I was so excited about it that I immediately took out a subscription. However, I've only now been so grabbed by one of the patterns that I had to try it immediately. The Chloé jacket is on the autumn edition's front cover, tooted as quick and stylish, and it is. Judging by the number of them popping up on instagram (and blogs, see Jolies Bobines) I wasn't alone in my enthusiasm either.

This lovely red fabric is a slightly nubbly kind of faux-bouclé, which I presume to be entirely man-made as it was 4 euros a metre (thank you, Berger). When I bought it, it was lightweight and drapy and I was envisaging a sort of half-cardigan-half-coat scenario. Was, you'll have noted - because I chucked it in to pre-wash without even thinking about it, and it felted. One return trip for another metre later, because wow felting fabric shrinks it something awful, I had a heavier weight jacket on my hands. And in fact, it's all the better for it.

I'm getting quite good at derp pictures, no?

The fabric now holds and shows off the structure of the coat really well - and I firmly believe that it's this, together with the loud happy red, which accounts for the phenomenal number of compliments this jacket has received.  Several friends (individually, on separate occasions), my son's class teacher, helpers at the after-school club, a random bloke on the street - and this was all in the first three times I wore it.  There's nothing like spontaneous flattery to make you appreciate your own sewing brilliance, really, is there? :-)  And in fact, I've been not only astonished but also highly appreciative, because for a couple of reasons I wasn't feeling brilliant about this coat when I finished it.

First and most obviously, there's the basic fact of some lazy finishings. OK , they're on the inside, but coats flap open and I know they're there anyway.  When the fabric felted, it got so thick I couldn't think how to finish the seams without binding them, which I wasn't in the mood to do, because I just wanted to bash it out and be done. So, as felt doesn't fray, I just left them raw, and now I regret it because it's messy.  Plus, there's the press-stud hand-sewing fail too.

But ok, I can live with it - it was quick and fun make - and look, all the funner because yay contrast yellow pockets!  Which by the way are far too low on me, I need to take some length out at the waist if I ever make this again:

No, the real reason I was slightly insecure about this jacket ran deeper than seam finishings and some dodgy stitching.  It went back about 10 years, to a coat I bought that felt unnervingly just like this one. Thick fabric, too-low pockets and all - suddenly but unmistakably, this jacket dredged up coat memories I didn't really want to have.

The coat-of-10-years-ago had been bought in desperation, in the depths of winter, because I finally had to face the fact I'd gained weight beyond the scope of my clothing. The shopping trips to find it were awful: everything in the larger sizes was sold out or, like the coat I eventually settled for, irredeemably unattractive. As I saw it at the time. Now, I think that of course it was me seeing myself as irredeemably unattractive. That feeling of despair at paying good money for a coat I hated, for my shape that I hated, is what drove me finally, after literally years of procrastination, onto a healthier diet and into the gym.

Now, I'm still about 10 kilos lighter than I was then. I'm also about 10 kilos heavier than I was at my lightest (pre-kids, obviously).  But what I like to think has really changed in the last 10 years is the way I see myself. I was impressed when my body produced and squeezed out two small people - I like it better looking 'worse' now than I did before - and sewing my own clothes has liberated me from wardrobe angst almost entirely. Plus, y'know, older and wiser and less giving of shits. So it was a shock to unexpectedly get this jolt of memory, experienced very physically and as close as the coat I was wearing, back to a time when that wasn't the case.

I don't really know if I'm trying to say anything here. I'm just telling you, because that's the deal with this jacket.  It makes me appreciate who I am now, and the shape I am now, and the many wonderful sewing patterns people make now, which allow us to all sew up whatever we want, in whatever crazy colours and textures we like, and to look fabulous in them, because we're OURSELVES.

OK yes, that's what I'm saying :-)

Does the ability to sew your clothes how you see yourself and your shape? Do you think it makes us more likely to accept our little (or big!) shapely quirks and irregularities? Or is that just a natural consequence of growing up, and nothing much to do with our clothes at all?  These things have been on my mind since I made this, and I'd love to know what you think too.

And P.S. - if you'd like your very own Veste Chloé, you can get the current issue of La Maison Victor here, or keep an eye on this page where the patterns all eventually appear for sale individually (Dutch and French only I'm afraid, but with decent diagrams).


Monday, 6 October 2014

And now for something completely (well, slightly) different

OK, it's still sewing. But this one may take some explaining.

And I don't mean the explanation that Fanny Packs Are Back In Fashion because the cool kids in Barcelona were wearing them last spring. (They were, I saw it with my own eyes. And that explanation was too easy - I just did it all in one sentence).

Let's start with this guy. The one in the middle, wearing the dress:

His name is Robert. Until recently, Robert was the vicar of the church of Holy Trinity Brussels (well technically, he was the Chaplain and it's a Pro-Cathedral, but I don't know what the difference is and in any case it sounds pompous, doesn't it?) I pinched that picture from their website and I hope they don't mind. Anyway, this church's community has basically been my home-away-from-home since I moved to Belgium about 15 years ago (15 years!!) We're a multilingual (united by English), multi-denominational (under the Anglican umbrella), welcoming, generally tolerant and open-minded bunch where the liberal and the traditional rub along together, usually very nicely. That's why I like it. And in all the time I've been there, I can only really recall one occasion of actual, mass judgementalism - on the day that Robert joined us.

Oh, I don't mean that we didn't like him. We did! A lovely guy, he fit in perfectly right from the start, striking the many balances our services and community can need. But the first time he was introduced to us, well - coffee in the hall afterwards was abuzz! Seems nice, we agreed. Seems like this'll go well. But - tones hushing - what. on. earth?? What's with the bumbag??!

I don't think we ever really found out. But over the years, the bumbag grew familiar and unremarkable. It was just part of the church's (well, the chaplain's) permanent vestimentary furniture. Then, eventually, earlier this year, it was announced that Robert was leaving us, for a rather fantastic promotion that we were all so very pleased for him to get.

Fast forward a couple of months. The week of his leaving do, I got a call. Could I, would I, we know it's short notice and all but we think this idea's a winner - might I be capable of sewing a bum bag? A purple one? Yes, purple. A deeply, seriously, episcopal purple bum bag - as a gift for the new Bishop of Europe?

How could I say no? It never occurred to me to say no! And you know what, I think the Hand of God was on this project from the beginning. Because at very short notice and with more luck than planning, I found the fabric, the zip and the cotton webbing, in three different shops - all EXACTLY the right colour, all matching perfectly. Less than a morning's shopping, a quick google for this pattern, and Operation Bishop's Bum Bag was go!

And yet, I knew it was missing something. That little something extra - something to finish it off, something to elevate it. Something to take this bum bag from simply purple, to fit for a bishop.

And behold, though lo I never do machine appliqué because I suck at it, verily the Lord guided my hands and The Embellishment was Good.

Appliqué Like A Boss!!

Sadly, I had to miss both the leaving do and the exciting trip to Canterbury for Robert's investiture - these photos were taken by some of the starstruck parishioners who did get to stand in close proximity to Archbishop Justin himself (*scream* it's a CofE celebrity!!!)  Apparently the bum bag was received with much appreciation and hilarity, as was the purple, cross-adorned handmade jumper he received from a team of the congregation's knitters (because yes, he's a big fan of woolly jumpers too).

I like to think he wears both under his robes at all times.

Seriously, though.  Are bum bags making a comeback? Would you wear one?

I have to admit, I can see their utility - perhaps if mine was as cool as Robert's, I'd wear it with pride. In fact I'm not sure exactly what's stopping me...